How many times have you looked in the mirror and said something like “I am fat” or thought that you need to change your body in order to fit some ideal of what society tells us it should look like? How many times have you heard another woman say that about themselves? How many times have we heard comments about a young girl’s body or made comments about our body in front of a young female? Is our own self-judgment as females getting passed down to the next generation? While I completely believe a lot of what we deal with in regards to our body can come from societal ideals and pressure I do wonder how much of this is self-inflicted by us as women? Do we keep repeating the sins of our past and putting it on generation after generation? A current generation that now adds another layer to the equation when it comes to body image...life lived on social media. For all the positives social media can provide one negative thing it has brought to young women is an image obsessed culture. And don’t get me wrong it isn’t just young females who are affected, it can take its toll on all of us, but if we aren’t the positive voice for the next generation then the vicious cycle will only continue.
I have had the absolute pleasure these past two years volunteering for Prom Project. It is an event that brings in girls from all over the city and pampers them with a night of shopping for a prom dress, shoes and jewelry. I get to be the young women's personal shopper. I take one girl at a time and help them through the whole process. I love it. From helping them sort through all the dresses they may want, to trying them on till they find the right one, it is an experience I cherish. But inevitably when a dress doesn’t fit or look right, the first words out of a girl’s mouth is “I am fat”. I immediately try to put an end to that terrible self-talk; I let them know I want to lift them up, help them feel beautiful and that I don’t want to hear her talk about her body in a negative manner. I NEVER see what they see, what I see is a beautiful young woman in the wrong dress. What I do feel is mad that a girl would feel this way. I am mad at the crazy, all over the place sizing that is women’s clothing (I know you all know what I am talking about. How many different sizes do you have in your closet? It can be a crap shoot, especially with formal dresses). But also I get frustrated that we have learned and then taught each generation after us that when something doesn’t look right it is because something is wrong with us. Why can’t it simply be as easy as that the dress just isn’t right for us and move on? No need to get down on ourselves and start picking away, just move on to the next item of clothing. Why do we keep teaching them (and ourselves) that their worth is found in the mirror?
The double edged sword is that when I tell them I don’t want to think of themselves that way, an immediate sting of regret hits me, “Then why have I talked to my own body this way?” I mean truly, almost every female I know at some point (and way too often) has put more self-loathing on them self than anyone else ever could or has. And it seems to start even younger and younger, the self-judgement and completely misguided thoughts about how we are supposed to look. I am tired of it and I just don’t want to live that way and I hope you don’t either. If we want to see the change then it must start with each of us making a conscious effort to stop the self-judgment of our own body and then work to stop it in others as well. We have to remind each other that our ability to be loved and to love ourselves is not correlated with how we look. That self-worth is not found in the mirror. We have to be there for each other. We have to be there for young girls, teenage girls, and every age after that. We have to be one another's voices of reason and encouragement because if society won’t teach us to love our bodies then it is on us women to teach each other, young and old.